The collaborative work of Pueblo potters Maria Martinez and her husband Julian Martinez.
Their story is an interesting one, as it was an archeological dig near their home of San Ildefonso, New Mexico that sparked the resuscitation and expansion of a traditional form. Maria would hand-build/coil her wares, their grandchildren would then burnish them with smooth stones, and Julian would paint the designs. Their works are world renowned for the shiny black pots native to the region: a surface quality resulting from firing the wares in a densely smokey reduction that trapped the carbon into the clay.
One of these days, what I did, what you are doing, what we are doing, will be important.
Maria Martinez to her grandchildren
Carry that thought into your practice, for you know my stance well: that pottery is evidence of our endeavors. And it’s interesting that most of the clay we use in studios has been recycled, likely more than once. The next piece you toss into the recycling canister will become someone else’s revelation. The piece you carry out of the studio is the product of many other’s learning process. Each piece contains in it the effort, joy, frustration, learning, hopes, and do-overs of those who’ve come before you to the wheel. What they did, what you are doing is important, a circle with no beginning or end: as your wheel spins, so do we.
Translated from Japanese to English, we get 金継ぎ, meaning “golden joinery/repair.
Kintsugi is a process of repairing broken ceramics using urushi and 24 kt gold dust. The repairs are evident rather than hidden, drawing attention to the fractures. Like pottery itself, it is an art form that takes much practice and trial and error.
On a philosophical level, kintsugi embraces the broken, acknowledging that nothing in this world is perfect, that fractures are intrinsic marks of existence and impermanence. But why use gold to fill in fractures? Watch this video, and enjoy.
And why did I chose this particular concept to share? More or less, I ask each of us to examine what it is that brings us to shape and collaborate with clay. Whether you come to the wheel or hand-building table to add a little beauty to your home, to work relaxation into your day or week, to learn something new, to participate in an ancient art form, or for something more personal, the form that emerges before you is but one part of a larger continuum.
For every crooked handle you pull, or wonky pot you try to center, or tumbler that decides to take a tumble off the bat, there is beauty to be found in the evidence of these endeavors, however unexpected or frustrating they may be in the moment.
These mishaps or scars are narrative potentialities. At the very least they reveal where and what your hands were doing in relationship to gravity. On the other end of the spectrum, these bumps and chips, warps and cracks, they reveal a more essential quality of being predicated on the all unifying notion that change is inevitable. A little gold dust to soften the blow of a fall; now isn’t that a most gentle appreciation for that which we try so hard to hide or negate.
Beatrice Wood had infectious laughter. She lived to be 105 years old and attributed her longevity to “young men and chocolates.”
Once, I overheard a colleague of mine talking to his students when sharing Wood’s work with them. He was remarking how recognizable her work is, the characteristic dance in the arms of the handles and necks. His advice to his students, in this light, was that if you can recognize your work in progress on the shelf without having to turn it over to look at the initials underneath, you know you’re doing something right.
Curiosity is involved…and I’m madly curious
Listen for her message at the end of the 8-minute video for further elucidation!
Today’s video looks at Hawaiian-born ceramist Toshiko Takaezu. Her work is simultaneously intimate and monumental, mostly employing hand-built methods of vessel making:
In the film, she says, “You make a piece that you don’t have planned…and then when you see it, something happens, and it looks as though you have to go into another direction because this thing happened.” The perl resides in being awake to see what the form awakens to.
In a lump of clay we believe we are shaping it, when in fact, it is shaping us.
Be alert to those emerging narratives swelling from the clay, and your intersection with it.
I was also surprised to see my college poetry professor Stephen Berg in this film. He lends beautiful insights into the relationship between timelessness and forms.